Quilmes, etc.

May 21st 2010: Travel

(final chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Compared to the other Argentinean vices, their smoking, their caffeine dependency, and their sweet tooth, this last one, alcohol, is the one they seem to indulge the least in. Or at least they don’t drive it to an extreme the way they seem to push the other ones. Sure, just like in the rest of the world, alcohol is everywhere and happily consumed. But unlike the inhabitants of other countries I have visited, Argentineans don’t seem to like the feeling of losing control, getting way too drunk to find your way home. Instead they prefer to rely on yet more caffeine to make sure the party goes on until sunrise. As a result, beer and wine and cocktails are consumed in more or less “healthy” moderations.

The local wine is cheap and excellent. I grew particularly fond of Malbec, a local red wine grape similar to Merlot that turned out to be just right, not too sweet, not too dry. Most of the Argentinean wine
read more…

Sweetness

May 20th 2010: Travel

(third chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

In Argentina some flavors are hard to find while others come in overwhelming abundance. Like sugar and anything sweet. Not only are Argentineans running on coffee and mate, but they also appear to be on a constant sugar high. Everything that’s not savory tends to be overly sweet. In Patagonia I had a hot chocolate that was so incredibly sweet, to an almost disgusting degree, that you could barely drink it. And it was served with several (!) additional packs of sugar on the side, in case I found it too bland. This is not a rare example. The movie theatre popcorn is sweet, the morning croisants are all sugar glazed like donuts, plenty of sugar goes into your mate, and because they are made with real sugar and not with corn sirup, sodas are also fairly popular, while their diet (or light) versions seem to just be available for show (or for us dumb foreigners). The epiphany of the Argentinean sweet tooth, however, is Dulce de Leche, a milk caramel sauce made, according to wikipedia, essentially from condensed, sweet milk. It’s as ubiquitous as your standard chocolate flavor: anything you can imagine getting in chocolate exists down here soaked in Dulce de Leche (ice cream, Oreos, etc). It is another one of those national Argentinean staples you will not be able to escape.

I just found out that, due to international trade issues, sugar has become a rare commodity over the last few weeks with many stores either not selling it at all or limiting sales to one pack per family. I wonder what that will do to the local cuisine. And to the business of the hordes of dentists that must be making a killing down here.

Coffee, Mate

May 15th 2010: Travel

(second chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

No, no. The comma in the title is on purpose, not a typo. I don’t want to talk about that artificial creamer office managers buy in bulk and that, because barely anyone uses it, fills up cabinets over cabinets in the shared kitchen. And yes, we are still in Argentina, not Australia. After dealing with smoking, I want to dive into the much more pleasurable Argentinean vices centered around caffeine. There are two you should really be familiar with, that you will be exposed to within the first few hours after entering Buenos Aires: Coffee and Mate.

Coffee

Argentineans have a wonderful coffee culture. There are cafes at every street corner. I heard a number quoted somewhere: 8,000 cafes in Capital Federal, the heart of Buenos Aires, alone. These cafes are open at all hours of the day, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. And not only do they serve coffee,
read more…

More Change

Apr 11th 2010: Travel

(update to: Looking for Change, part of Food)

Looks like McDonald’s smelled the beef and is introducing their own beef and bacon stacked burger line. I’m hoping they’ll try to top each other in size. I vow to eat a 10 paddy burger should they come out with one. And no, In’n Out does not count.

On a related note about McDonald’s creative menu in Germany: the following article was posted on the New York Times website today In Germany, a Taste of New York, via McDonald’s.

Looking for Change

Mar 29th 2010: Travel

(updated in More Change, part of Food)

As mentioned before, the quality of the food in Buenos Aires is very good, but it does lack variety. Coming up to the end of my fifth week here, I do crave something different every once in a while. My basic cooking skills do provide some alternatives to the local cuisine, mostly because my kitchen experiments keep going horribly wrong. You would be surprised in how many ways you can screw up pasta. Seeking something new to entertain my palate I recently ended up at Burger King. It was not what I expected. Fast food abroad is usually more interesting than in the States. In Germany for instance the McDonalds have “theme weeks” to spice up the menu. One week there would be “Caribbean Week” with optional pineapple slices on the burgers and Pina Colada milkshakes. Other weeks they would offer burgers with BBQ sauce calling it the “Texas Week.” In Korea you can get Kimchi burgers on buns from rice and Bulgogi (spareribs) burgers at the local Lotterias, a Koreanized version of McD.

When I entered the Burger King in Buenos Aires I hoped to find some interesting, localized burger variants. And I did. But it was not what I anticipated.
read more…

Talking about Ice Cream

Mar 8th 2010: Travel

Just wanted to share this amazing ice cream I had this weekend. It was funtastic. I might not be leaving this place….

Cows on Crack

Mar 4th 2010: Travel

A first attempt at a food post. I will skip over the famous arsado as I have not yet had any. However, as this recent NYT article proves, I don’t have to feel guilty about it. Which I probably wouldn’t anyway. (Palermo Hollywood is only two blocks away, btw.) Nevertheless, asado is on my ridiculously long list of treats I will reward myself with once I have survived my Spanish Intensive, capital I. Other top contenders are doing absolutely nothing, moving in and decorating my new apartment, and watching sweaty tourists passing by either from the convenience of my own balcony or from the cafe downstairs. And some Tango classes.

The one-word impression is that the food here is great. As long as you are not too picky in diversity. Buenos Aires is not only central European in looks but also in taste. The local Parrilla, which is pronounced in an (im)proper Castellano fashion “parisha” and is typically the small Argentine hole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant, alternates with Italian style pizza places, pastry shops, bars, and cafes. You have to really go out of your way to find the one visionary who in a grand dillusion decided to open the one unvisitied Chinese or Indian or Mexican restaurant. The U.S. attitude of “I can’t eat Chinese for dinner because I’ve had it for lunch already” will leave you starving on the side of the road on day one.

What Buenos Aires lacks in ethnic diversity, and I am not just talking about the food, it makes up in quality of what it does provide. The vegetables are fresh and tasty, the bread crunchy and hearty, and the cows here must not just be happy but totally high on crack. What has amazed me from the beginning, when I could barely say my name and was still overcoming the recovering from the 22 hour flight, is how amazing the cheese is. Yes, the cheese. It’s awesome. It turned the, by BA standards, decent pizza into a feast. And I have not been disappointed since. Friends have had similar ecstatic experiences with yogurt and butter, items that will be added to my personal food chain once I own a fridge.

Currently I am making a point of trying something new everyday by visiting different cafes or restaurants for dinner, getting the Spanish menu (my “hola” has gotten quite convincing) and ordering something completely unknown and foreign to me. It does help to be an indiscriminate omnivore.  The results have been mostly positive with the notable exception of the ever common grilled cheese sandwich, or tostada. As great as the cheese is, by itself on grilled toast just makes for a unexciting dinner. At least in a restaurant. My absolute cheese favorite, however, was a desert I ordered on a whim, instead of the usual espresso, called Queso y dulce (“cheese and fruit paste” – this is why, when it comes to food, we need to stick with names in languages we don’t understand). It’s literally a slice of soft cheese with a slice of fruit paste, in my case made from sweet potato, covered with a little bit of caramel sauce. Indescribably fantastic! For me, it is high up there together with my other sweet tooth pleaser, ice cream (like Bi-Rite’s). If you know me, you know this is quite a compliment. By googling the term I found that some Argentine restaurants in the U.S. also offer it. I’ll just hope it’s as good as it is here.

Other, non-(or-less)-cheese highlights included last night’s Champion risotto, a strange seafood salad, wok-fried “Zen healthy” spaghettis, and a carne sandwich, which joined the other entres on the English menu with its unromantically translated name “beef sandwich”. I guess the name is accurate, but really lacks the ooomph of the experience. Slightly marinated, grilled beef arrived in a big lump of slices in between two tiny halves of a mini baguette held together by a toothpick and an olive. Identified as a foreigner, I also got a small basket full of ketchup and generic yellow mustard condiments. Just in case I’d like to insult the country by having my hot dog and eating it too. It didn’t need condiments. It didn’t need even need the bread: the beef on its own was so tasty, I almost skipped the bread.

Price-wise my dinners rarely exceed the $10 mark (~40 pesos) and that also includes beer, tip and tax, the warm weather, being able to sit outside, and the fact that you won’t be hassled if you take a two hour dinner. A few photos are below. I have not been great about taking food photos though and it’s hard to capture the food well at night. Since this is an ongoing project, at least until I find my omg-I-will-never-eat-anywhere-else place, expect more food posts.